It’s been less than a month since Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the environmental lawyer turned anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist, announced that he would challenge President Biden for the Democratic nomination in 2024—yet already he has assembled a bizarre, crackpot coalition of fascists and anti-progressive leftists who are united in a desire to see the American system burn.
Given that Kennedy’s candidacy could weaken Biden and strengthen Donald Trump, it’s no wonder far-right figures have embraced him. Alex Jones praised him as a “good man,” Infowars listener Steve Bannon posited that he would make an “excellent choice” as Trump’s running mate, and Tucker Carlson gave him a fawning interview on the final night of his now-canceled Fox News program, calling him “one of the most remarkable people” he’s ever met. Kennedy returned the favor, calling Carlson “breathtakingly courageous” and, in a signal to his conspiracy-frenzied supporters, even speculating that his appearance on Carlson’s program was the reason for the host’s termination.
But more surprising, perhaps, is the praise for Kennedy in certain quarters of the far left. The Grayzone’s Max Blumenthal and Aaron Maté, who once reported for outlets such as The Nation and Democracy Now! but have drifted to the conspiratorial fringe in recent years, last week celebrated Kennedy’s supposed “anti-imperialist” opposition to American aid for Ukraine and argued that he threatens the “pro-war” and “pro-censorship” leadership of the Democratic Party. David Talbot, the founder of Salon, does not share Blumenthal and Mate’s sympathy for war criminals like Vladimir Putin and Bashar Al Assad, but he has endorsed Kennedy for similar reasons, writing that “neocon bureaucrats and propagandists have flocked to the Democratic Party” and that Kennedy threatens those “vested interests.” Briahna Joy Gray, co-host of The Hill’s show Rising and former press secretary for Bernie Sanders, favorably compared Kennedy to her former boss, calling the candidate an “outsider” who presents a chance to “topple the corporate duopoly.”
What is going on here, exactly? Political science has a term for such surreal ideological alliances that would bewilder most rational voters: “horseshoe theory.” Jean-Pierre Faye, a French philosopher and poet, created the theory while struggling to understand how members of the Communist Party of Germany, and other far-left groups, could have treated Social Democrats as more dangerous than the Nazis. His explanation, further developed by political scientists who have studied the concept in Europe and the United States, is that like the left and right tips of a horseshoe, extremists are closer to each other in political priorities than they are to the center, which represents the system that both factions despise.
The two tips of the horseshoe tend to align on specific issues—such as worthy opposition to the military-industrial complex or paranoid opposition to government public health mandates—rather than on specific politicians. Each side has distinct ideas about how best to overthrow the system, after all. The likes of Carlson and Bannon already have such a figure in Trump, and thus are boosting Kennedy in hopes of helping Trump return to power. It’s the anti-progressive left whose motives are more difficult to discern. Do they genuinely believe in Kennedy as a candidate? Or do they just see him as some pseudo-intellectuals saw Trump in 2016: as the Flight 93 candidate who would blow up the establishment?
Any leftist who looks at the Republican Party today yet concludes that the Democratic Party is the bigger threat has to be under the influence of conspiratorial delusions or a tremendous quantity of hallucinogenic drugs. But anyone who pays attention to the alt-media personalities of the anti-progressive left knows that they almost never criticize Republicans; they reserve their vitriol for Democrats.
Jimmy Dore, who hosts a popular podcast and YouTube show, calls himself “the comedy darling of America’s Progressive Left,” yet mostly repackages right-wing talking points against “wokeism” and the Democratic Party. In March, in a drooling interview of Kennedy, he applauded him for “waking people up” to the lies of the “system.” Dore also repeated the anti-progressive left’s own Big Lie: that the Democratic Party “rigged” the 2016 and 2020 primaries against Bernie Sanders. Kennedy nodded with approval.
The depiction of the Democratic Party as a force of cartoon villainy scheming to undermine the will of the people has gained momentum, after it was reported in The Washington Post that the Democratic Party “has no plans to sponsor primary debates.” Ignoring that incumbent presidents almost never debate primary challengers, Krystal Ball of the popular podcast and YouTube show Breaking Points condemned the decision: “You have a clear, consistent majority of Democratic Party voters who want an alternative [to Biden], and yet the party elites, from every ideological corner, including Bernie Sanders, who immediately bends the knee hours after Biden’s announcement that he’s running for reelection, all of them coalesc[e] behind him in what is a very anti-democratic, and outright authoritarian fashion.”
More worrisome and loathsome is how the anti-progressive left and far right meet on issues of much greater consequence than primary debates. They routinely downplay the significance of the January 6 insurrection; argue that Trump does not pose a threat to American stability; oppose aid to the Ukrainian struggle for self-determination against Putin’s aggression; and ridicule concerns about systemic racism, widespread misogyny, and virulent homophobia and transphobia as bourgeois identity politics.
Robert Kennedy Jr. speaks to their hearts. His opposition to vaccination, which extends far beyond Covid and includes most child vaccines, threatens public health, but to the horseshoe alliance it is evidence of his resistance to “Big Pharma.” When speaking at an anti-vaccine rally in 2022, Kennedy implied that, at the height of the Covid pandemic, the U.S. was more oppressive than Nazi Germany, saying, “Even in Hitler’s Germany, you could cross the Alps to Switzerland. You could hide in an attic like Anne Frank did.” It wasn’t the first time that Kennedy invoked the Holocaust in a vaccine denouncement (contrary to the lie he recently told Michael Smerconish that he “was not comparing Covid mandates to the Holocaust”). In the same interview, he whined on behalf of the January 6 insurrectionists, saying, “There are so many Americans who are worried about election integrity, and who feel like the system is rigged against them. There were riots at Capitol Hill because of that conviction.”
Many of you may not recognize most of the anti-progressive lefties named above. They are far smaller in number and stature than those on the extreme right, and, unlike figures such as Carlson, they hold no sway with the Democratic Party. But their audience is growing, and there’s a sizable anti-Biden vote to tap into: Among Democratic voters, Kennedy is polling around 20 percent in a three-way matchup with Biden and a third primary challenger, New Age huckster Marianne Williamson.
The anti-progressive left might decry “late capitalism” and “imperialism,” but they’re operationally right-wing. Some are cynical opportunists seeking a place in a niche media market, whereas others genuinely want a political revolution that destroys both parties. For better or for worse, though, the Democratic Party is the only safeguard against far-right fascism. Anything that dulls support for Biden—especially elevating a hopeless candidate like Kennedy—only improves Trump’s chances of returning to power. The anti-progressive left might not openly desire the destruction of American democracy, but they’re working with the far right toward that outcome nonetheless. Anyone curious about the real-world effects of a “horseshoe alliance” would do well to remember the term’s origin.